White Firefighters Are Awarded $2.7 Million in Bias Case

Dan Herbeck, Buffalo News, February 9, 2012

Twelve white Buffalo firefighters will get an average of $230,430 each in back pay, pension benefits and damages—a total of almost $2.77 million—for emotional distress because the City of Buffalo illegally passed them over for promotions, a state judge has ruled.

The 12 men sued the city in 2007, contending that the city illegally allowed two promotional lists to expire because minority firefighters had fared poorly on civil service exams.

The case was affected by a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said city officials cannot void the results of civil service exams simply because they are afraid of being sued.

The ruling on damages came 15 months after State Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek ruled that the city illegally failed to promote based on its 2005 and 2006 tests for racial reasons.

A trial on damages was held late last year, and Michalek ruled Tuesday on the compensation for the 12 firefighters who lost promotions.

“This never should have happened. These are solid, hardworking firefighters. The city should have given them the promotions they earned and not put them through five years of litigation,” said attorney Andrew P. Fleming, who represented the firefighters with co-counsel Christen Archer Pierrot.

The administrations of Mayor Byron W. Brown and his predecessor, Anthony M. Masiello, are both to blame for what happened, Fleming said.

“The original decision not to promote these men was made at the tail end of the Masiello administration, and it carried on into the Brown administration,” Fleming said. “Mayor Brown had the opportunity to make it right but chose to continue on with this unnecessary litigation.”

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[The plaintiff’s attorney Andrew] Fleming said trial testimony also showed that the situation caused morale problems in a large segment of the Fire Department.

[Firefighter Joseph] Fahey said the case pointed to “the true nature of reverse discrimination: When it happens to blacks, everybody is correctly upset about it, but when it happens to whites, nobody cares.”

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